The HSV Senator I drove a little while back didn’t do it for me, the six-speed gearbox felt a bit woollen and agricultural and just didn’t feel up to the task. With that, I gave HSV a call in a last ditch attempt to regain my faith in the marque.
I went in of a Monday afternoon and there it was, a blue GTS waiting for me. I’ve gotta say, this thing looked pretty damn good. Sitting on 20” wheels all round and finished in a dark blue colour, I was looking forward to taking the manual driven GTS for a fang.
The interior is familiar HSV territory – in fact – spotting the differences between this and the R8 is anyone’s guess (aside from the leather clad seats). Surprisingly, the GTS is a friendly unit to drive. Although the gearbox is rough as nuts, the clutch is easy and light, while the brake pedal has a firm feel to it and the accelerator is spaced nicely alongside the brake for a bit of heel-toe action.
After driving a few other HSV vehicles – R8, Grange and Senator – I was also a bit disappointed with the audio track on offer. The manual GTS I drove on the other hand though was angry – bloody angry! North of 2500RPM, a dirty V8 racket creeps through the firewall to arouse the driver and passenger alike. Not bad methinks.
It’s quite clear HSV had their larger passengers in mind when designing the seats. The side supports are meaty, but with a figure like mine – you know...not fat – my body moves around the seat base spasmodically during cornering and doesn’t allow me to stay firmly planted while giving the GTS some stick. On top of that, our car had the black, plain Jane interior which looked a bit drab in comparison to the colourful red interior offered in red HSV GTS vehicles ($690 option).
Rear leg room is just astonishing. Whenever I hop into a VE – be it an Omega or a GTS – the rear leg room never ceases to amaze me. There is just a plethora of room available, with enough space to accommodate a trio of HSV’s seemingly target build demographic.
Driving a manual HSV is a totally different experience to the auto cog box. The whole process is so fluent and natural. Line up a straight stretch of road, dial up around 2300RPM and let the clutch out gradually with a bit of swift motion and hold on. Nail the throttle to the board and let the revs speed around to redline. Grab the small, stubby gear-shifter and give the clutch a stab, then slam the gear lever into second gear and let the clutch out. Soon after grabbing second, 100km/h hits in a gob smacking 5.55-seconds (although HSV claims 4.96-seconds).
Unfortunately, trying this more than twice didn’t bode well with the GTS I was driving. Along with just over 10,000kms on the clock, one of the magazines had probably just finished ‘driving’ my copy. After a couple of fully fledged 0-100 runs, the clutch became sticky and wouldn’t return to its upright position. Tread was also wearing thin on the rear tyres – for once, it wasn’t my doing! – making traction off the line a somewhat trivial task.
One of the main reasons I wanted to punt a manual GTS through some bends was for the MRC (Magnetic Ride Control). According to HSV boffins, the magnetic ride system employs a bunch of electro-magnets that can quickly alter the dampening of the suspension, variable upon driving conditions. Hit the ‘Track’ button and the system automatically firms up the ride, waiting for hard cornering before reacting with full force.
Line up a bend in second gear and turn-in feels extremely crisp and spot on. The steering is a little lighter than I would have liked, but it’s relatively precise and provides enough feel to understand what’s happening through the wheels. Nail it on the outset of the corner and the 275-wide Bridgestone Potenza ZR20s grip like the proverbial to the road and work in unison with the MRC’s gadgetry to provide mouth watering performance without the need for a deep set of pockets.
The best part about the GTS was its driveability. Although the gear shift will always be a nigh on two hand job, once you’re cruising in 6th gear, there is oodles of torque available and it’s dead silent – to a degree, you forget you’re cruising in a 307kW V8.
Step outside and the GTS and onlookers turn into drooling statues. The quad circular LED brake lights, along with the quad tail pipes finish off the HSV’s bloody aggressive stance. Coupled with a mean set of 20” wheels all round and cross-drilled rotors with red callipers, the GTS even impresses tree huggers who are against fuel guzzling V8s.
A few other factors that make the E-series GTS so impressive lie beneath the skin. Take the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) for example. Over the years I’ve been writing road tests, I’ve sampled many ESP systems both on and off-road. The setup used in the VE range, and more so the HSV range has to be one of the best in the world – I shit you not.
Lexus are criminal when it comes to their VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) system. It literally pulls 97% of power out of the engine and brakes wheels when even the slightest loss of traction is detected. It scares the living crap out of an unsuspecting driver and jolts the car in all directions. HSV’s ESP on the other hand lets you have a bit of free-play with the back end before it steps in. Even when it does step in, it doesn’t take its glove off and slap you in the face, it subtly brings the ass-end back into line and reduces power to the driveline if necessary.
The best part is that when you hit the symbol with the squiggly tyre marks, the system turns off all electronic nannies, leaving you with 6.0-litres of menacing V8 to play with!
Don’t expect any wonders in the wet though. Trying to manoeuvre this puppy in the wet is like trying to break dance in a jewellery store...things are bound to go wrong. Come into a corner too hot and you are met with chronic understeer; give it too much of a stab on the way out and the rear end wants to dance. Striking the perfect balance between traction and speed results in a slow and boring drive when the road is glazed with water. The GTS’s stomping ground is a dry race track, that’s when and where it performs at its full potential.
Under the bonnet, an LS2 V8 lives. Producing 307kW, this 6.0-litre behemoth makes 550Nm of torque and is claimed to jolt from naught to one-hundred in just 4.96-seconds. The claimed 0-100 time must have been achieved on a downhill stretch of road, with a back wind and Mark Skaife shifting the gears as nobody else has managed to achieve that time.
The HSV GTS is available in two guises – automatic and manual. The manual GTS is available for $75,990, while the automatic weighs in at $77,990. Standard features in the GTS include: 20” alloy wheels; fog lamps; rear parking sensors; cruise control; electric windows; automatic headlights; trip computer; dual-zone climate control; Bluetooth connectivity; 6-disc in-dash CD player with MP3 compatibility; 8-way electric seats and MRC (Magnetic Ride Control).
Safety features include: Electronic Stability Program (ESP); dual-stage driver and passenger airbags; front side impact airbags; side curtain airbags; active front head restraints and ABS brakes with EBD.
Suffice to say, the manual version of HSV’s hero car has yours truly impressed. Where else do you get ball-tearing performance for a fraction of the cost of big Euros who demand things like 20” wheels and a mean set of brakes as options...?
Out of all the cars I’ve driven, the GTS also has to be one of the easiest to hold at – and beyond – the limit. Drop the rear end out and small and precise movements of the throttle and wheel hold it out for all and sundry to see. On top of that, the MRC provides bugger-all body roll through the bends...is there anything else a car nut could want? Nup, I sure as hell don’t think so.
CarAdvice rating (out of 5):
- by Paul Maric